On My Own Two Wheels, Malachi O’Doherty (2012)

A Belfast writer rediscovers his bicycle and recaptures his joie de vivre

Blackstaff Press, 9780856408892 176pp £8.99

Malachi O’Doherty has done nothing to generate headlines on his bicycle. There are no stages or the Tour de France, epic journeys across continents, or inspirational quests here. Nor has he overcome crippling hardship, life-threatening disease or any other ‘overwhelming odds’ to return to cycling. Instead, he as lost quite a lot of weight, without too much difficulty, and retuned to cycle touring – for which he had been an enthusiast some 25 years earlier.

How on earth did he find a publisher, much less a grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland with a pitch like that, you might ask?

The answer is two-fold. The 60-year-old freelance journalist is a well-respected, and modestly prolific writer who teaches his craft at Queen’s University Belfast. And, he has something to say – about his return to two wheels in his seventh decade.

Perhaps his most profound reflection is on the pleasures of ‘tootling’ – riding at your own speed, for pleasure, without pressure to rack up miles of to get home. It is not always as easy as it sounds, he relates, as he describes a lazy loop starting and ending at his Belfast home.

“So, I asked myself, how was I getting on with the tootling. If I had been a racer, I would have had my milometer on the handlebars and I would have been able to calculate the measure of my achievement and compare it with past exertions. But how to you quantify a tootle? Well, I was relaxed and enjoying my sandwich. I didn’t feel as if I was in a hurry to get home. I was now on the return lap with only about twelve miles to go so there was no need to think of camping anywhere for the night. The only real threat to the spirit of the tootle was that I might be tempted to speed up and reach the warmth of my own living room more quickly. There were a few steep hills in front of me and it is hard to climb nonchalantly.”

He is good too on the way that, over the course of an adult lifetime, enthusiasms come and go, affected in part by partners, job opportunities and family.

This is a book as gentle-spirited as Doherty’s brand of cycling, part memoir, part psycho-geography, part meditation on the experience of ageing. It is also a engaging read and a compelling argument for the unhurried pleasures of exploring by bicycle, whatever your age.

PS Oct 12


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